Kissing + Science = Cool

Sorry for the bad photo of Idea Festival presenter Sheril Kirshenbaum

I never put science and kissing together. They seem like mutually exclusive ideas. Science is classrooms, beakers, experiments, evolution.   Kissing is intimacy, physical attraction, sex.

So it took a presentation at the Idea Festival by a scientist from Texas to put the ideas together for me. Sheril Kirshenbaum explained, in a scientific way, the origins, experiments and research on why and how humans, and animals, put their lips together.  It may seem silly to spend serious research time on kissing, when there are so many important topics to study, but scientists want to have fun, too.

Kirshenbaum’s presentation opened Day 2 of the Festival.

It is a topic of keen interest for science. Kirshenbaum explained how one scientist went to parks, zoos and other public places to observe people kissing in public to determine whether they dip their heads to the right or left — which sounds like an activity that could get you arrested. Somehow the research found most people dip to the right, probably because most mothers breast feed with their left breast.  Another study seemed to indicate that people react more strongly to seeing same-sex kisses than man-woman kisses, then concluded that it must be because the same-sex kisses are more unusual.

Here’s news you might have already known — kissing stimulates production of chemicals in the brain, primarily oxytocin, known as the bonding hormone, and dopamine, the feel-good hormone.  These are good things, Kirchenbaum said, and make us want to kiss more.

She mentioned that it’s best not to mix chemicals like alcohol and drugs to the mix of brain stimulants, because it could make you think the kissing is something more than it actually is.

As for the relationship between kissing and sex, of course, there are differences between the sexes.  Men have no trouble having sex without kissing, while women are most likely to equate sex without kissing to prostitution. She reminded us of the movie Pretty Woman in which the prostitute Vivian never kissed her clients.

So there’s plenty of science behind kissing.

Her best advice:  Kiss often.

The Idea Festival continues downtown through Thursday. Tonight’s big event is the Taste of Innovation at Churchill Downs.